The Last Majestic Sailing in Company

A second group of warships followed some 12km behind the vanguard with the battleship Kongo at its heart. She was surrounded by an inner ring of heavy ships – the battleship Haruna and the heavy cruisers Chikuma, Kumano, Suzuya and Tone, with the light cruiser Yahagi fulfilling the same role as the Noshiro did in the first group. An outer circle of six destroyers completed this rear group.

Admiral Halsey, commanding US 3rd Fleet, had decided that the time had come to give Kurita’s Centre Force a searching examination and had sent scout planes out at dawn on 24 October to try to find its whereabouts. It was not certain at this stage that Kurita was intent on reaching the invasion site and doing battle with the US 3rd Fleet. It was just as conceivable that he might be intent on making for Manila Bay to bring reinforcements for the IJA troops on the ground in southern Luzon. Despite the advantages of signals intelligence, the Americans didn’t know for certain where Kurita was headed but the mystery was soon solved when a lone scout plane from the carrier Intrepid made radar contact with these enemy ships at 0746 hours on 24 October. It located them a few minutes later and reported the find at 0810 hours as they were passing south of Mindoro and moving eastwards in the direction of the Sibuyan Sea. Such a route meant only one thing to Halsey. Manila was out of the reckoning and Leyte Gulf was the obvious intended destination. This would be reached by going through the San Bernardino Strait. He ordered all his three task groups to close up and signalled McCain to abandon his trip to Ulithi and rejoin the rest of the task groups in the Philippines. It would take a couple of days to do just that since by this stage McCain and his ships were already roughly 600nm (1111km) east of the Philippines. In their absence, Halsey ordered an all-out attack on the Centre Force. In all a total of 251 planes flew off from his carriers to the Sibuyan Sea in four waves to attack Kurita’s ships. A mix of forty-five Avengers, Hellcats and Helldivers were the first ones to leave the Cabot and the Intrepid at about 0910 hours and they were followed by another forty-two from the same carriers at 1045 hours. A third wave of sixty-eight planes left the Essex and the Lexington within minutes of the second wave getting airborne, while a final group of ninety-six planes from the Cabot, Enterprise, Franklin and Intrepid began their sortie at 1313 hours.

Locating Kurita’s fleet at 1026 hours, the first wave of American planes found the enemy ships sailing in a battle formation notable for the fact that they were divided into two quite separate groups some distance apart. Each of these groups operated on the basis of an inner and outer set of concentric circles. Kurita’s new flagship, the Yamato, lay at the heart of the leading group. She was surrounded by a circle of heavy ships consisting of the super-battleship Musashi, the battleship Nagato, along with the heavy cruisers Chokai, Haguro and Myoko – all of which were spearheaded by the light cruiser Noshiro. Each of these ships maintained a distance of 2km from the Yamato at all times. Beyond this ‘inner’ 2km diameter circle was an outer ring of seven destroyers which maintained their positions a further 1.5km away from the inner core. A second group of warships followed some 12km behind the vanguard with the battleship Kongo at its heart. She was surrounded by an inner ring of heavy ships – the battleship Haruna and the heavy cruisers Chikuma, Kumano, Suzuya and Tone, with the light cruiser Yahagi fulfilling the same role as the Noshiro did in the first group. An outer circle of six destroyers completed this rear group. Kurita had devised this battle formation because he felt he needed better cover against the possibility of any heavy air attack launched by the Americans and trusted that the Japanese A.A. potential was as good in practice as it might be judged on paper. It wasn’t.

Although confusion reigns to this day about just what happened in these air strikes and who did what to whom, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the first strike succeeded initially in both torpedoing Myoko and knocking her out of the line and even more significantly obtaining both a bomb hit and torpedo strike against Musashi, one of the two behemoths in the Centre Force. Each wave thereafter targeted the super-battleship and more bombs and torpedoes struck home with devastating effect over the next few hours. At least thirty-two hits were recorded against her and she received eighteen near-misses before she finally sank at 1935 hours later that same day with the loss of 1,023 officers and crew. All the other battleships, including the Yamato, were bombed as well, but none of them received the treatment accorded to the Musashi, or were disabled even if they were hit. Four hours before Musashi sank, seeing his fleet worn away first by enemy submarines and then by Mitscher’s aircraft, Kurita had decided not to tempt fate any longer and to reverse course temporarily so as not to sail in daylight into the narrow confines of the San Bernardino Strait where his remaining warships could be subject to yet another deadly series of attacks. About an hour after Kurita turned round again and resumed his original course, he received an emphatic signal from Toyoda at 1815 hours that made it very clear where the Vice-Admiral’s duty lay. Attack was the only option and he was instructed to put his faith in divine assistance. Kurita knew what that meant. His presence in Leyte Gulf was essential regardless of what losses his Centre Force sustained in getting there. Abandoning his concentric circle formation, Kurita gathered his remaining ships into what Ugaki would later describe as a ‘compound column’ and pressed on towards his original destination.


Naval Bombardment of San Juan, Puerto Rico

Lithograph depicting the U.S. Navy bombardment of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on May 12, 1898. (Library of Congress)

Event Date: May 12, 1898

Naval bombardment of San Juan, Puerto Rico, by ships of the U.S. North American Squadron on May 12, 1898. Rear Admiral William T. Sampson sailed from Havana, Cuba, to San Juan in search of Rear Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete’s Cádiz Squadron. Sampson’s ships arrived off San Juan in the early morning of May 12 and at 5:20 a.m. commenced a bombardment of Spanish military positions ashore. The American ships made three bombardment circuits. The cruiser Detroit led, followed by the battleships Iowa, Indiana, and New York; the double-turreted monitors Amphitrite and Terror; and the unprotected cruiser Montgomery.

The American warships fired a total of 1,360 shells before they broke off the engagement at 7:45 a.m. The Spanish shore batteries fired only 441 shells in reply. Neither side inflicted much damage on the other. American gunnery was abysmal. A majority of the U.S. shells went long, while others fell short. Probably only 20 percent of the shells hit in the general target area, and many of these failed to explode. In the exchange, the U.S. side suffered some minor damage, 1 man killed, and another 7 wounded. Spanish casualties amounted to 13 killed and perhaps 100 wounded, most of these civilians.

The shelling was controversial, for international law clearly required that noncombatants be warned before such an event, but Sampson claimed that his ships were firing not on the city but on its military installations and thus that no prior notification was required. The shelling made little sense, however. Sampson later justified it as a form of naval reconnaissance to ascertain, as he put it, enemy “positions and strength.” The shelling did serve to provide the American squadron with a baptism of fire. Secretary of the Navy John D. Long was not impressed and was also upset that Sampson had placed his ships at risk by shelling shore installations before he had concluded the pressing matter of locating and destroying Cervera’s squadron.

On May 13, Spanish governor-general of Puerto Rico Manuel Macías y Casado and the island press trumpeted the bombardment as the first Spanish victory of the war, and island merchants distributed food and gifts to the Spanish troops. Sampson, meanwhile, took his squadron to Haiti and then on to Key West, Florida, where he arrived on May 18.

Further Reading Mitchell, Donald W. History of the Modern American Navy: From 1883 through Pearl Harbor. New York: Knopf, 1946. Trask, David F. The War with Spain in 1898. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996. West, Richard Sedgwick, Jr. Admirals of American Empire: The Combined Story of George Dewey, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Winfield Scott Schley, and William Thomas Sampson. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1948.

The Mississippi Squadron II

Bombardment and Capture of Island Number Ten on the Mississippi River, April 7, 1862

Colored lithograph published by Currier & Ives, New York, circa 1862.

It depicts the bombardment of the Confederate fortifications on Island Number Ten by Federal gunboats and mortar boats. Ships seen include (from left to right): Mound City, Louisville, USS Pittsburg, Carondelet, Flagship Benton, Cincinnati, Saint Louis and Conestoga (timberclad). Mortar boats are firing from along the river bank.

Captain A. M. Pennock, commandant of the naval station, and Walke of the Carondelet welcomed the new Mississippi Squadron commander. Although no records survive of their first meeting, Porter reportedly found Walke “an active, impatient man” with ideas similar to his own. The squadron needed attention. The army had signed up many recruits at ratings and pay levels higher than they deserved, causing old hands to grumble. Porter would have to ease some of those men out and discharge hundreds who had come down with river fevers. The squadron’s leaky, makeshift vessels were overdue for repairs, and poor conditions aboard had undoubtedly contributed to the number of ill sailors. Clearly, commanding the Mississippi Squadron would be no easy task.

In his cabin on the Benton, Porter assessed the squadron’s resources for fighting the war on western waters and found them wanting. He told the Navy Department he needed more of everything—gunboats, auxiliary craft, artillery, officers, crewmen, and, most of all, river craft suited for narrow, shallow rivers. Porter would retain the city-class ironclads, but to escort convoys and support the infantry, his squadron needed more versatile vessels. To meet Porter’s demands, the navy built dozens of what became known as tinclads, as well as two stern-wheeled monitors, the Neosho and Osage. The navy would also commission three ironclads, the Tuscumbia, Indianola, and Chillicothe, all launched in 1862, and convert the captured Eastport to carry 6.5-inch armor and eight guns. For his flagship, however, Porter chose the 260-foot tinclad Black Hawk, a former luxury cruise boat converted to carry thirteen guns. Never one to pass up an opportunity for amenities, Porter kept the rich wood paneling and chandeliers in the Black Hawk’s officers’ quarters and installed stalls for horses.

Just prior to the change of command, and for weeks afterward, Phelps carried on the squadron’s active operations at Helena. Without Kilty, Stembel, and Paulding, he had only Walke, Winslow, Dove, Bryant, and Thompson as captains. Phelps thought Winslow and Dove inefficient commanders but considered Walke a “fighting captain.” Fortuitously for Phelps, Winslow asked for a transfer, and Phelps managed to replace Dove with Richard W. Meade as captain of the Louisville. Bryant had fallen ill, so the Cairo also received a new captain, twenty-six-year-old Lieutenant Commander Thomas O. Selfridge Jr. “Received on board Commander Selfridge as our captain,” George Yost wrote on September 12, 1862. “Capt. Bryant being in ill health he was sent home.”

The state of the flotilla’s gunboats appalled Phelps. The Cincinnati had sprung countless leaks, and its engines needed repair. The Carondelet had gone to the yard in Cairo after the engagement with the Arkansas. A survey had found the Louisville in a “disgraceful and dirty condition” and its executive officer, two masters, and surgeons incompetent. The situation in Ellet’s ram fleet was even worse. Disputes were rife, and the rams’ men had taken to plundering, stealing, and luring blacks from plantations. Fortunately, Lincoln realized the ram fleet needed to be under the Navy Department’s command. Consequently, on November 8, 1862, Alfred Ellet was promoted to brigadier general, and his rams were renamed the Mississippi Marine Brigade.

On October 19, with its engines repaired, the Carondelet headed downriver to Helena. It passed Island No. 10 on October 21 and then took on coal at Memphis. Bright and early on October 23, the Carondelet took a pilot on board and, Morison noted, “dropped down amongst the fleet. Came to anchor abreast the city. Here we found Benton, Bragg, Mound City, Louisville, and Cairo.” All the gunboat captains, including Selfridge, the Cairo’s new commanding officer, came on board and visited with Walke. According to Yost, Selfridge had clearly set out to make the Cairo a proper man-of-war with a regular routine. “We drilled considerable to day and I think that our Captain intends to try to soon have the best drilled crew in the fleet,” he wrote in his diary on October 13. “The boat looks much cleaner and nicer now than it ever did before.”

Meanwhile, the Cincinnati had completed repairs at Cairo and had received some new recruits, among them Daniel F. Kemp. On September 16, 1862, Kemp had enlisted in the navy for one year. Rated a landsman, he went by rail to Cairo, Illinois, to the receiving ship Clara Dolsen. Most of the recruits, Kemp recalled, were made guards, as the ship had no marines “to keep the crew in order.” Then, he wrote, “a gunboat came up the river one day. . . . This was the gunboat Cincinnati. We were taken on board the Cincinnati on November 6, 1862.” The new recruits’ first assignment was to take on coal. Kemp observed, “This was a hard, unpleasant job as none of us boys had been used to hard work. However, we were in Uncle Sam’s Navy now, and had to do whatever we were told to do whether we liked it or not. We were getting ready to go down to Vicksburg, and the firemen had to have coal.” Kemp vividly recalled their trip downstream: “We left Cairo one Sunday and started down the Mississippi for our destination, but the river was very low and our progress was very slow, for we had to take soundings quite often so as not to run aground.” The gunboat anchored a short distance from Island No. 10 for several days, due to low water and heavy fog. Then, as the gunboat steamed down the Mississippi, Kemp explained that they “took on board a lot of contrabands, and they were a jolly lot of darkies right from the plantation. They would get together at night and give us a gay old time, a regular plantation jig. The names of their leaders were Alex, Charley, and Black Hawk. Alex would do the patting, and Charley and Black Hawk would do the dancing and the usual shouting and yah yahing.” The Cincinnati continued past Columbus, Hickman, Fort Pillow, Memphis, and Napoleon before arriving at Helena. “We finally reached the fleet, and found anchored there, the Signal, Marmora (Mosquito), Mound City, Carondelet, and Pittsburgh. Also a packet boat and the Lexington, a wooden gunboat.”

The Carondelet had spent the first part of November at Helena, tasked to convoy any vessels running between Memphis and Helena, provided there was sufficient depth of water. Navigating the Mississippi River still proved a challenge, for there was barely enough water for his ironclad boats to move up or down the river, Walke reported to Porter on November 8. He requested any light-draft, armed steamers that were available. He had sent a number of sick sailors to Cairo but cautioned the admiral, “There is still quite a number of officers and men who are very much debilitated by the fever and ague this fall, and I am afraid they will not be fit for duty this winter.”

By the fall of 1862, officials in Washington had grown weary with the lack of progress in the West. Generals Buell and McClellan had been pursuing a style of warfare that reflected their limited war aims. The halting Union advances had prolonged the fighting, and now the president resolved to prosecute the war more aggressively. “The army, like the nation, has become demoralized by the idea that the war is to be ended, the nation reunited, and peace restored by strategy, and not by hard, desperate fighting,” Lincoln said. In late October he replaced Buell with William S. Rosecrans as commander of the Army of the Cumberland, and on November 7 he informed McClellan that Ambrose Burnside would supersede him. Lincoln urged his generals to renew the attack on Vicksburg, which had been delayed by military crises in Kentucky and Maryland and by a Confederate attempt to lever Grant’s forces out of northern Mississippi. Grant had initially declined to renew operations against Vicksburg, citing the need to rebuild railroads in northern Mississippi and Tennessee. In November, however, Lincoln replaced Butler with Nathaniel P. Banks as commander of Union forces in southern Louisiana and gave him the mission of opening the Mississippi River by coordinating an attack on Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Finally, Grant proposed a move south to Grenada, Mississippi, which he expected would engage Confederate forces and enable Sherman to make an amphibious assault downstream from Memphis to Vicksburg.

Naturally, Porter knew the reputation of the man everyone now called U. S., or “Unconditional Surrender,” Grant, but he had never met the general and knew nothing of his plans. One evening, the admiral attended a dinner party on board an army quartermaster’s riverboat. When a man in a rumpled brown coat and gray trousers appeared, the host said, “Admiral Porter, meet General Grant.” The two found a table away from the party guests and sat down. Without fanfare, Grant explained his plan to take Vicksburg. “I need your assistance, Porter,” Grant said, “all you can provide.” Impressed with Grant’s calm demeanor and his determination, Porter pledged his full support for the coming campaign. Then, without taking a bite of supper, Grant rose, clamped down on the cigar in his mouth, and announced he was going to ride back the way he had come.

Back on board the Black Hawk, Porter finalized the squadron’s plans to support Sherman’s expedition up the Yazoo River. Walke, who was now in charge of the Mississippi Squadron’s vessels based at Helena, was given the mission of securing all the landings on the Yazoo where the Confederates could erect batteries, determining the water’s depth, and dragging the river for mines. Porter then sent orders to his commanders to proceed to Helena and report to Walke.

On November 21 Walke, who was still suffering from what he called “Yazoo fever,” received orders to leave for the Yazoo as soon as possible. He was supposed to prevent the erection of batteries at the mouth of the river, or as far as federal guns would reach. If there was insufficient water in the Yazoo for his large vessels, he was instructed to send the Signal and Marmora with some good marksmen to secure a landing for General McClernand’s troops. The admiral also ordered Walke to take all the ironclads at Helena, except for the Benton and the former Confederate Bragg, plus the Lexington and Tyler, and secure control of as much of the Yazoo as possible. “Pick up all the good contrabands you can get, and something may be learned from the most intelligent of them and dispatch it to me,” Porter instructed. He explained that in about ten days he would be pushing downriver with all the light-draft boats he could get finished. Selfridge in the Cairo would be joining Walke at Memphis. The Cincinnati, Pittsburg, and Baron de Kalb, Porter wrote, “will be off on Monday.” With the Carondelet short fifty men, Walke realized he would have to take men from the Mound City and the Benton to fill his complement.

On November 24 the gunboat Marmora arrived with mail, and Morison reported that “dispatches also came in for our captain and immediately all hands were in motion, getting ready for a start down river to Vicksburg.” The next day Walke left Helena in the Carondelet with the Mound City, Signal, and Marmora. The Lexington, led by Lieutenant Commander James W. Shirk, was on its way to Helena with some refugee families. After dropping them off, the Lexington went down to Ashton, Louisiana, destroying every ferryboat it came across. Shirk brought back twenty-four contrabands, all of whom told him “that they are to be free on the 1st of January, but that their owners are getting ready to move them back from the river as soon as possible.” Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would go into effect on New Year’s Day 1863.

The Carondelet headed downstream accompanied by the Marmora and Signal, each towing a coal barge. On Wednesday, November 26, they met the Lexington, which followed them. The next day Morison wrote, “Picked [up] some more ‘contrabands,’ one of them having lived in the woods for over five months. Passed one plantation where all the slaves on it apparently wanted to come off, but being rather short of provisions, had to decline the honor.” The contrabands claimed that rebel troops had gone to Holly Springs and that all the blacks employed there had been sent to work on the forts at Vicksburg, as well as at another fort about forty miles below it.

The federal gunboats came to anchor off Milliken’s Bend at 4:00 p.m. on November 28, and Walke sent an armed boat crew from the Marmora on a tug. “As they landed, some guerillas in the woods fired on them and wounded one of ‘Marmora’s’ officers in the right side.” After this, they kept a lookout for enemy batteries along the shore. When the little flotilla reached the mouth of the Yazoo the next day, Walke sent the Marmora and Signal up to reconnoiter, accompanied by twenty men and the gunner from the Carondelet. The expedition ascended the Yazoo about forty miles but returned after encountering a masked battery. Although they did not engage the enemy battery, “they shelled the woods, thereby driving in the pickets from the river banks and killing a few of them,” Morison explained. They took two prisoners and a contraband on board and “found that the rebs were busy erecting some more batteries down towards the mouth of the river.”

Observing the water level, Walke decided not to take his ironclads up the river; instead, he sent the tinclads Marmora and Signal to sound the river and look for rebel activity. Suspecting rebel guerrillas in the area, Walke then sent a detachment of twenty armed men, under the command of gunner William Beaufort, to the Marmora to protect the crew while they sounded the river. At 2:15 p.m. his suspicions were confirmed when a party of men fired a volley of musketry at the Carondelet from shore. The gunboat immediately replied with four solid shots and two five-second shells.

Lieutenant Robert Getty took the Marmora and Signal up the Yazoo, and at Twelve Mile Bayou guerrillas fired down on the federal gunboats from the high banks. Getty shelled them, and they disappeared. Upon reaching Anthony’s Ferry, some twenty-one miles up the Yazoo, Getty reported, “I was again subjected to a severe and rapid guerilla fire, which was promptly returned with howitzers and rifles, silencing the enemy.” Finally, at Drumgould’s Bluff, Getty found the enemy’s fortifications. He studied them through his spyglass, determined they were indeed formidable, and then steamed back down to the mouth of the Yazoo. In his report to Walke, Getty claimed that his reconnaissance had confirmed the presence of rebel pickets and some cavalry. The guerrillas were active, he told Walke, but the Confederates had no batteries for twenty-three miles up the Yazoo from its mouth.

On December 1 Walke issued special orders to his commanders. He told them to keep a quarter watch during the night and to maintain sufficient steam to work their engines. Should the enemy fire on any of the vessels, the nearest one would fire immediately. If fired upon by a battery or field battery, then all vessels should go to quarters and place themselves in a position to engage the enemy to the best advantage. Recalling the friendly fire taken by the Carondelet after running past Island No. 10, Walke instructed his commanders to engage any enemy gunboat approaching the squadron with their bow guns in the first order of sailing, “being careful not to fire into each other.”

Walke also sat down to write a report to Porter. He informed Porter that the Confederate fort on the Yazoo “was said to be on a very high bluff concealed from view by another high point.” The passage up the Yazoo was clear to the fort, but he noted that “a land force would be needed to capture it.” He told Porter that he really needed more rams and noted, “The rebels have some good, large steamers at Vicksburg, and I suppose they will come out and surprise us, if they can, but I will keep a bright lookout for that. They can not attack us except with rams, or by boarding in the fog with large steamers.” Walke commented that the weather was “quite pleasant” but added that, having been on blockade duty on the Mississippi since September 1861, he would be happy to see the river open again, “as the ague and fever of this country is, like the rebels themselves, obstinate and treacherous.”


To Leyte Gulf

Sailing towards Leyte Gulf from left to right CA Chikuma, BB Nagato, BC Haruna, BC Kongo and CA Tone.

Toyoda readied his various forces on 20 October for the decisive action to come. Setting dawn of 25 October 1944 as ‘X-Day’, he ordered Kurita and Vice- Admiral Shoji Nishimura’s forces to leave Brunei Bay on 22 October and instructed the three other components of the plan: the transport unit of Vice- Admiral Naomasa Sakonju from Manila, the 2nd Striking Force of Vice- Admiral Kiyohide Shima from the islands of the Pescadores in the waters off Formosa, and the diversionary force of Jisaburo Ozawa from the Inland Sea to set out on their travels so that they could meet the requirements of the plan. Despite their major setbacks in the recent past, the Japanese were still able to put a formidable naval force together for this latest and most decisive battle with the Americans. Apart from Musashi and Yamato, the two super-battleships that formed the apex of his designated Centre Force, Kurita could rely upon the substantial battleship Nagato, the two fast ex-battlecruisers that had been reclassified as battleships Haruna and Kongo, ten heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and fifteen destroyers. Shoji Nishimura’s warships, which were expected to form the southern part of the pincer movement against the invasion fleet in Leyte Gulf, were much less impressive both in quantitative and qualitative terms than Kurita’s Centre Force. Although the southern force contained two battleships (Fuso and Yamashiro), the heavy cruiser Mogami and four destroyers, both of the battleships were relatively old, slow and ponderous. Because their route to Leyte Gulf by way of the Surigao Strait was more direct than that to be taken by Kurita, Nishimura left Brunei Bay seven hours after the cutting edge of Shō–Gō- 1 had left port at 0805 hours on 22 October for its longer, more circuitous voyage through the Philippines to Leyte Gulf via the Sibuyan Sea, the San Bernardino Strait and along the east coast of Samar – a distance of some 1400nm (2,593km). Shima’s group was meant to join it in the Sulu Sea west of Leyte and bring a further mix of two cruisers and seven destroyers to bear when the southern part of the pincer snapped shut. That at least was the theory, but would it work out in practice? Much hung on theory and speculation at this time. Ozawa’s appearance with the 1st Mobile Fleet was a case in point. It was to be a decoy force meant to lure Admiral Halsey 3rd Fleet away from Leyte to the north and enable Kurita, Nishimura and Shima to execute a brilliant pincer movement trapping and eliminating Vice-Admiral Thomas Kinkaid’s 7th Fleet off the invasion beaches in Leyte Gulf. Despite losing so many planes and, even more importantly, experienced pilots in the Pacific campaign, Ozawa could muster more than 100 aircraft for the fleet carrier Zuikaku and the light carriers Chitose, Chiyoda and Zuiho to use. Along with him, Ozawa brought two old battleships (Hyuga and Ise) which, despite having been converted into seaplane carriers, were carrying only guns – a battery of over a hundred light A.A. guns and six rocket launchers – and no aircraft for this operation. Their main purpose was to be the initial magnet for Halsey’s carrier fleet and then subsequently to defend the rest of Ozawa’s carriers with their A.A. armament. Rounding off his force were three light cruisers, eight destroyers and a supply force that brought together a further destroyer, two tankers and six corvettes. Commanding a decoy force with few aircraft at his disposal was no easy undertaking, but if any Japanese naval officer could pull off this risky manoeuvre Ozawa had the fearless qualities to do so.

As part of the plan to shore up resistance on Leyte to assist the 20,000 Japanese troops already there, Naomasa Sakonju was made responsible for bringing in troop reinforcements in the shape of the 30th and 102nd Infantry Divisions to Ormoc, a port on the northwest coast of the island. His force, consisting of the heavy cruiser Aoba and the old light cruiser Kinu, a destroyer and four fast transports, stayed well clear of the invasion sites in Leyte Gulf, but was still found a few miles south of Cape Calavite off the northeast coast of the island of Mindoro at 0325 hours on 23 October by the US submarine Bream which managed to torpedo the Aoba before making good her escape. That hadn’t been in the script and neither were the activities of two other American submarines, Dace and Darter, which were to strike with even more telling effect a few hours after Bream’s moment of partial success. Cruising off the west coast of the island of Palawan, the two submarines picked up Kurita’s Centre Force on their radar screens at 0116 hours on 23 October. They reported the contact to Halsey and closed in on the warships which were intent on conserving fuel and only making about 15 knots during the hours of darkness. Manoeuvring their way into position before dawn broke, the two submarines waited for the Centre Force to pass before Darter fired a spread of six torpedoes at Kurita’s flagship Atago at 980 yards (274m) distance at 0632 hours. Four of them hit home with deadly effect a minute later. Atago took on an almost immediate 25* list and sank within twenty minutes. Darter was far from finished. She also managed to hit the Takao twice two minutes later on her starboard side totally destroying her rudder, carving two sizable holes in her hull, smashing two of her four propellers and flooding three of her boiler rooms. Not surprisingly, she took on a 10* list to starboard. Her day was done. She was forced to limp back to port in Brunei Bay in the company of the two destroyers Asashimo and the Naganami. Well before arrangements could be carried out to save the Takao, however, Dace announced her entrance onto the scene by firing four torpedoes at the heavy cruiser Maya – all of which hit her port side at 0657 hours and literally blew her apart. She took a few minutes to join her flagship in sinking. Rescued from the wreck of the Atago before she foundered, Kurita quickly transferred his flag to the Yamato (much to Ugaki’s chagrin) and forged on ahead determined that he would fulfil his part of the Shō–Gō- 1 plan even if the element of surprise had been lost, which it obviously had been!


Stefan Dramiński.

Thus far, construction plans had been conceived in an atmosphere of ‘no war with Britain’. Raeder informed Hitler on several occasions that Germany’s naval development was not sufficient to cope with a war against a major sea power, but each time the Führer replied by saying there would be no war against Britain because such an act would signal the end of the Reich. Not until early 1938 did Hitler tell Raeder that the Kriegsmarine might have to consider meeting the Royal Navy on a war footing. Even then, he stressed that it would not be before 1948 at the earliest.

By 1937, warship development had progressed sufficiently for the first long-term planning policy to be effected. The plan was intended to remain in force for the years from 1938 until 1948, and would see the fleet develop to the limits of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. All the original demands and suggestions for new warships were evaluated by Kpt.z.S. Werner Fuchs, and put down on paper as Plan ‘X’. (X being the ‘unknown’ from algebraic equations.) This was an immense document and could not be considered under the terms of the Naval Agreement, so he modified the details and reduced the plan to a practical size. His tailored version was designated as ‘Plan Y’ and was laid before the Supreme Naval Command, who modified the ideas still further. The final version then became known as ‘Plan Z’. It has been suggested that the ‘Z’ stood for ‘Ziel’ or ‘goal’ but the sequence simply progressed from the letter ‘X’ – often used for an unknown quantity in algebra – and just happened to end with ‘Z’.)

Plan ‘Z’ had been conceived under the ideal of ‘no war with Britain’, but matters had to be reconsidered after Hitler told Raeder that there were voices in Britain who were clamouring for another war and Germany might have to fight the Royal Navy after all. However, there were no alternative options and plans went ahead the way they had been formulated.

When the ‘Z’ Plan was being formulated, there were two distinct opinions on naval warfare in the German Navy. One idea, which received the backing of the Supreme Naval Command, was to build a powerful surface fleet consisting of mainly battleships and cruisers. The other idea was to develop a navy centred on submarines and small craft such as torpedo-boats.

Plan ‘Z’ was strongly opposed by Kpt.z.S. Karl Dönitz, who could only muster a long list of foul adjectives to describe the decision. Another opponent of Plan ‘Z’ was Fregkpt. Hellmuth Heye who, acting on an instruction from Raeder, produced a thesis on the subject of war with Britain. He concluded that it would not be possible to defeat Britain by pitting German battleships against her merchant shipping. But it appears that nobody took much notice of Heye during the summer of 1938. Perhaps this was because he was an individualist with unconventional and ‘quite mad ideas’ – which he fully demonstrated towards the end of the war by building up the Midget Weapons Unit to a fantastically high standard, against terrific odds and in an incredibly short time. In addition to Heye, there were several other submarine supporters in the Supreme Naval Command: Hermann Boehm, Fleet Commander, and Hermann Densch, Commander-in-Chief of Reconnaissance Forces, were both in favour of U-boats. In fact, Densch had a pet-saying: ‘We must build submarines on every meadow, in every shed and on every stream – it is our only hope of winning.’

But theirs were only faint cries in the wilderness, for the majority were in favour of a battleship navy. Many in the Supreme Naval Command kept repeating their stereotype views that there would be no war with Britain, and that, under war conditions, Dönitz’s submarine tactics would be found wanting. Several powerful men in the High Command maintained their belief that only the mightiest and heaviest battleships would penetrate the shipping lanes of the Atlantic. They considered submarines to be outdated and obsolete weapons.

The High Command also had some knowledge of Britain’s asdic, which, it was thought, might prevent a successful submarine war. Similarly, they pointed to the Prize Ordinance Regulations (pages 41 and 201), which imposed numerous operational limitations on submarines and further restricted their effectiveness.

The final decision on the type of construction policy to adopt was made by Hitler. The Naval High Command gave him two alternatives: either a battleship fleet or a U-boat dominated navy. Hitler chose the surface fleet outlined in the ‘Z’ Plan and, on 27 January 1939, gave the programme top priority – just over six months before the outbreak of the Second World War. So, it is safe to say that the ‘Z’ Plan had little influence on the outcome of the war.

The new capital ships were to be equipped with eight 406mm (16 inch) and twelve 150mm (6 inch) guns; they would carry four aeroplanes, have a top speed of thirty knots, and a range of over 12,000 nautical miles at a cruising speed of just under twenty knots. (Construction of Bismarck and Tirpitz had, of course, already started before the ‘Z’ Plan was formulated.) The Chiefs of Staff also examined what had been Germany’s main weakness during the First World War – that of trying to operate far out in the Atlantic from bases in the German Bight. This problem was solved by planning to put the new long-range battleships based on the Deutschland into the South Atlantic where they would be serviced by supply and repair ships seeking out remote spots in the Southern Ocean for the more lengthy repairs.

The Russian Navy 1695-1900

Eugene Lanceray. Fleet of Peter the Great (1709).

The Russian Navy was founded by Peter the Great (1682-1725) in the Baltic to protect Russia from then powerful Sweden and on the Sea of Azov to counter the Ottoman Empire. Catherine the Great extended Russia’s control to the Black Sea by adding a fleet based at Sevastopol. Russia maintained small flotillas on the Caspian and White Seas. By the end of the eighteenth century there was also a Pacific Squadron that supported the Russian-American Company colony in Alaska. From Catherine II’s reign until the late 1820s, periods of friendly relations with Britain allowed the Baltic Fleet to deploy to the Mediterranean in a series of campaigns against the Ottomans. A Russian squadron joined an Anglo-French fleet in the victory over Mehmet Ali at Navarino in 1827. Thereafter until the 1854-56 Crimean War, the Baltic Fleet declined into the autocrat’s naval parading force. At the same time the professionalization of the Black Sea developed apace as a result of superior leadership, notably Admiral M. P. Lazarev, and continuous operations in support of Russia’s protracted war with Caucasian mountaineers. Nakhimov’s overwhelming victory against a Turkish Squadron at Sinope in late 1853, which brought Anglo-French intervention in the Crimean War, was, in fact, a continuation of the Black Sea Fleet’s mission to isolate the Caucasian theater of operations from maritime supply.

The 1856 defeat that saw the Black Sea Fleet abolished and made very clear the need for rail connections to link south Russia with the Moscow-St. Petersburg core and to avoid a Baltic blockade, also came at the crucial time when the great steam-and-steel revolution was taking place. This coincided with the scrapping of the IRN’s sailing ships and their replacement both by modern warships, such as those which visited the United States in 1863-64, and in a revival of concern with naval strategy and tactics. Though reduced in size to one thirty-sixth of the million-man army, the 28,000 men in the navy were much more technically proficient and efficient.

Between the beginning (1696) and the end (1917) of its history, the Imperial Navy had far more influence than its modest size and marginal role would suggest. Three key themes emerge. The first concerns the role of the navy in national strategy; the second the relationship between the navy and the process of technological modernization and Westernization; and the third the issue of the professionalization of the officer corps. By the mid-nineteenth century the latter involved the development of a system of advanced schooling for officers, the cultivation of a shared vision of the service through publications for the officer corps (the official and unofficial sections of Morskoi sbornik), and the unsuccessful resolution of the especially difficult question of officer advancement (chinoproizvodstvo) which turned on the conflict between promotion based on bureaucratic seniority or talent and achievement.

The navies that Peter built on the Sea of Azov and in the Baltic were fleets in being that, as in the later Soviet case until the 1950s, had deterrent value, but also served as a “second arm” supporting amphibious operations against hostile shores, a mission that the Black Sea Fleet also developed. Given the demands of maintaining a continental army, the navy had few levers to use to extract bigger budgets. After the early combined operations under Peter, the navy languished until the reign of Catherine II, when it once again dominated the Baltic and won command of the Black Sea. In this period the IRN did venture out of the Baltic and enjoyed some success in battle. Because of the nature of the final struggle with Napoleon, a continental war fought in alliance with Britain and as a result of the debt incurred in prosecuting that war, the navy once again went into decline. The exception to this being the mounting of scientific expeditions and round-the world cruises. Russian naval officers came to see such deployments as necessary for the training of professional naval officers.

The history of the navy from Petrine days to the end of its second century reflected the patterns and tensions between repressive, militaristic autocracy and thoughtful, visionary obshchestvo (educated society). The Crimean War dealt a heavy blow to that structure, challenged its institutions and stimulated the Great Reforms, which included the emancipation of the serfs as a basic move toward a more productive economy and the needs of the armed forces.

In this the admiral, General-Admiral Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevieh, played an important role from 1854 in protecting and training five future ministers in bureaucratic politics and administration and instilling in them the hope that virtue and talent would triumph. He also cultivated an alliance with the naval officers who had been proteges of Admiral Lazarev and brought them into the senior leadership of the navy. With no Black Sea Fleet because of the demilitarization of the Black Sea, this leadership focused its attention on the modernization of the Baltic Fleet and the development of a Pacific Squadron. The visits to the United States in 1863 of Baltic and Pacific squadrons were part of a new naval strategy that embraced such deployments as a deterrent threat to British trade.

By the time of the Great Reforms (1856-70) following the Crimean defeat, the navy was allowed to play a wider role through modernization so as to help the Russian Army preserve the country’s great-power status. From 1856, then, the Russian Navy developed in parallel with Western naval forces and created its own industrial base in alliance with private enterprise. This development rested upon the cultivation of a professional officer corps, where initiative and experience took precedence over seniority. In 1877-78 the Black Sea Fleet, which was almost non-existent-remilitarization had only become possible in 1870 and there were no yards or mills in the South to build modern ironclads-managed to neutralize a much larger Turkish Navy through the aggressive use of mines and torpedoes.

Believing that he should, unlike most Russians, consult affected parties, the grand duke turned Morskoi sbornik (Naval Digest) from a dull official bulletin into a lively journal of discussions, which helped clarify the confusions and the liberations of the Great Reforms.

These abolished the ancien regime and introduced a new world in which local organizations governed what was within their ken. This very much affected the army deprived of its privileged aristocratic officers and its serf soldiers. It also touched an increasingly technological steam and steel navy after 1860. At the same time the implications of the reform process frightened many conservatives in the Imperial family (notably the heir to the throne, the future Alexander III, the bureaucracy, and society). Konstantin Nikolaevich was for them a “red,” a dangerous figure whose ideas could lead to the undermining of the autocracy itself. After the death of Alexander II, the new tsar moved to remove the grand duke from his post as general-admiral and other state offices.

With the grand duke’s departure from leadership of the navy, leadership of the Naval Ministry passed into the hands of men who once again cultivated appearances at the expense of accomplishments and saw initiative and experience as grave dangers to institutional stability. The naval counter reforms, especially the tsenz (promotion based on positions held and time in service) created a bureaucratized force. The Naval Ministry reverted to the purchase of major combatants abroad and failed to develop a staff system to guide the navy in preparation for war. The full implications of this decline were only revealed by the destruction of the Russian squadron at Port Arthur and the defeat of Rozhestvennsky’s squadron at Tsushima (1905).

In the great intellectual debate of the nineteenth century between Westernizers and Slavophiles, the navy proved to be one of the most controversial institutions because it had no roots in Muscovite Russia but was closely tied to the Petrine transformation. It was the ultimate product of Westernization. Slavophiles regarded it as an artificial imposition of an alien state.

Today, the heirs of the Slavophiles have embraced geopolitics and Eurasianism and condemn Russia’s contemporary experiment with democracy and an open society. They speak of a profound cultural and political struggle between Russia as a continental power and the West as an alien maritime world. Eutasian ideologues, such as Alexander Dugin and Alexander Panarin, speak in terms of a decisive contest between a hegemonie thalassocracy, led by the United States with the “pirate” values of “Atlanticism, globalism [mondializm], and liberalism” and a Russian tellurocracy that is Eurasian, anti-Western, and anti-liberal. For these ideologues of the “conservative revolution,” the Petrine transformation and the Great Reforms were nothing more than the seduction of Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, centre, sits on board a bathyscaphe as it plunges into the Black sea along the coast of Sevastopol, Crimea, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. President Vladimir Putin plunged into the Black Sea to see the wreckage of a sunk ancient merchant ship which was found in the end of May.

The French Navy 1914-18

The French navy had emerged from the nineteenth century with what was contemptuously dubbed “a fleet of samples,” the reflection of a confused naval policy resulting from the constant turmoil caused by politics or surrounding the debate over the theories of the Jeune École. The French had seemed on the road to recovery with the passage of the naval law of 1900, which would have provided for a fleet of 28 battleships, 24 armored cruisers, 52 destroyers, 263 torpedo boats, and 38 submarines.27 The law appeared to establish a firm plan for the future, including the construction of homogeneous classes. Unfortunately the minister of marine from June 1902 to January 1905 in the government of the noted radical Emile Combes was Camille Pelletan, another radical who revived the controversies of the late nineteenth century in his attempt to democratize the navy. Pelletan retarded construction of the battleship program, for he was another believer in “cheaper” naval means, such as torpedo boats and submarines. Submarines may have been the weapon of the future, but they were no substitutes for a balanced fleet, and Pelletan played havoc with the naval program at the very moment the dreadnought-type warship was to come into service. French construction fell far behind in both quantity and quality of capital ships. The French built six semidreadnought Danton-class battleships while the other navies were building real dreadnoughts. The first French dreadnoughts were not laid down until 1910, which was not only well after the British and Germans but after the first dreadnoughts of their Mediterranean rivals as well.

The French navy returned to the proper course with a pair of able naval ministers, Vice Admiral Augustin Boué de Lapeyrère and Théophile Delcassé, and the naval law of 1912 provided for a French fleet by 1920 of 28 first-class battle ships, 10 scout cruisers, 52 destroyers, 10 ships for overseas stations, and 94 submarines. The French accelerated this program in 1913 with newer and larger dreadnought classes, but none were ever completed. When war broke out, the French had only two dreadnoughts in service and two still completing their trials. Eight more had been laid down, of which only three were completed. The French had a relatively large number of armored cruisers, but these were big, vulnerable targets, expensive to man, too slow for real cruiser work, and too weak to stand up to real battleships. The program’s scout cruisers also had not been laid down yet—they were scheduled for 1917—and the French suffered severely from lack of this type, which proved invaluable to the British and Germans in the North Sea. Lapeyrère, who followed his term as minister by commanding the 1ère Armée Navale—the major French fleet in the Mediterranean—from 1911 to 1915, also complained of the quality of the destroyers. And many of the submarines were outmoded, their achievements during the war a disappointment despite the gallantry of their crews. To compound their difficulties, the French had the problem of unstable powder, which caused the loss of two battleships before it was solved. The Austrians and Italians had a real chance to catch up, at least on paper. On the other hand, the French retained an advantage in older classes of warships.

On the eve of the war the French navy numbered:

Many of the older ships or smaller torpedo boats or submarines were of little value, suitable only for local defense. In realistic terms, in a fleet action the major French force in the Mediterranean—the 1ère Armée Navale—would probably include:

Once again it is difficult to predict how many of the older battleships and protected cruisers would actually have been included.

France’s first dreadnought-type battleships, designed to counter Germany and Austria-Hungary, the Courbet class (Courbet, France, Jean Bart I, and Paris, completed 1913-1914) had a curiously predreadnought appearance with their high freeboards and five funnels. But they were turbine-driven, carried 12-inch guns, were much larger than their immediate predecessors, and in some cases were even more long-legged than their RN contemporaries. All four units served in the Mediterranean, where the Austrian submarine U-12 torpedoed Jean Bart in its wine store, although it survived this cruel blow. Courbet sank the Austrian cruiser Zenta on 16 August 1914.

France also produced few cruisers in the years leading up to 1908, although the reason for the stagnation in construction was not the result of perceived strategic requirements. The decline of the French cruiser program was the result of the confusion in strategic thought that stemmed from the ideological conflict of the late nineteenth century between the Jeune École, which held to a navy of smaller ships no larger than cruisers, and traditionalists, who believed in a navy centered on battleships. It was also a product of the frequent changes of ministers of marine, each with a program that differed from the previous administration. Cruiser construction and the French Navy as a whole consequently experienced a period of decline.

Between 1896 and 1911, the French Navy slipped from the second most powerful to fourth place. Even so, five armored cruisers were laid down between 1905 and 1908. Only one, Jules Michelet, was completed before the end of 1908. This 13,105-ton ship was essentially a larger version of the Leon-Gambetta-class. This vessel and those that remained on the stocks by the end of this period would be the last French cruisers built until 1922. Although the French Navy would experience a revival after 1909 with the appointment of Vice Admiral Augustin Boué de Lapeyrere as minister of marine, his program did not yield cruisers. The building schedule set out by Lapeyrere called for the completion of 10 scout cruisers by 1920, but this plan was greatly disrupted due to the onset of World War I in 1914.

By 1892, France had experimented heavily with the torpedo and built large numbers of torpedo boats as a consequence of Jeune École thought. Among the types pursued by the French, in tandem with the continued construction of torpedo boats, was a design for a ship that was much like the British Havock. France’s first true destroyers were the four ships of the Durandal class that were launched between 1899 and 1900. The hull of Durandal measured 188 feet, 8 inches by 20 feet, 8 inches by 10 feet, 5 inches and displaced 296 tons; its appearance resembled that of the British boats through its turtleback bow. Its armament consisted of one 2.5-inch gun and six 1.8-inch weapons as well as two 15-inch torpedo tubes. Like all of France’s first destroyers, the ship was equipped with triple-expansion engines that produced a maximum speed of 26 knots.

The intended use of the Durandal-class destroyers was ambiguous owing to chaos in the strategic planning of French naval officials by the turn of the century. The influence of the Jeune École had declined somewhat, but debate raged between advocates of it and traditionalists who based naval power on numbers of capital ships. As a result, the intended purpose of the early destroyers wavered between the Jeune École’s commerce warfare and the concept of protection of battleships as succeeding ministers of marine pursued their own policy on how best to combat Britain in time of war. Nevertheless, the general value of torpedo craft did not waver and resulted in the launching between 1899 and 1902 of another three classes of destroyers that numbered a total of 32 ships. Regardless of their purpose, these ships and the torpedo boats in existence continued to pose a threat to Britain.

From 1902 to 1908, the French Navy, which had been eclipsed in numbers by Germany in 1905, launched 23 more destroyers. The relatively small number in comparison to other naval powers was partially the result of construction delays that plagued French shipyards in this period. These destroyers were not wellsuited to action at sea as their hulls were very lightly built. This design aspect was the result of a French belief at the time that destroyers were primarily coastal defense vessels.

The one significant French destroyer class in this period was the Branlebas class. The 10 ships of this group, launched between 1907 and 1908, were equipped with deck armor. This was a very unusual feature in destroyers due to their relatively small hulls in comparison to capital ships that did not allow for such an increase in weight. Nevertheless, the French were among the most technologically innovative of the age and managed to incorporate it. Their armor consisted of .75-inch steel plating over the deck that covered the propulsion machinery of the craft. This feature was designed to protect against small-caliber plunging shellfire that could punch through the deck and disable the destroyer. The feat was particularly impressive, as the maximum speed of the units of this class was 27.5 knots.

These ships, however, were also too small to maintain station at sea. In an attempt to catch up with the larger destroyer designs of other powers, the French next launched the Spahi class comprising seven vessels. Launched between 1908 and 1912, the hull of Spahi measured 212 (pp) by 19 feet, 10 inches by 7 feet, 7 inches, displaced 550 tons, and was powered by a triple-expansion engine that could generate 28 knots. It mounted six 2.5-inch guns and three 17.7-inch torpedo tubes. The idea of the armored deck was discarded. Two similar classes comprising six destroyers were launched afterward that were virtual repeats of the Spahi class, although the units of the Chasseur class are significant for being the first turbine-powered and completely oil-fueled French destroyers. The final two peacetime classes of 18 ships were larger versions and carried heavier guns, but their value was limited. The ships carried only two 3.9- inch guns and had weak hulls that made their use in heavy seas a problem.

The French Navy was the most enthusiastic advocate of submarines prior to 1900. Its first boat, the Plongeur, was designed by Charles Brun and Siméon Bourgeois, entering service in 1867. It used an 80-horsepower compressed-air engine for propulsion and relied on small stern diving planes and an elaborate water transfer system, also compressed-air operated, to maintain position. This system proved ineffective, and the Plongeur soon was set aside. Electric propulsion underwater seemed a superior solution and was demonstrated by Claude Goubet in two small private venture boats that otherwise were unsuccessful. The French Navy’s return to submarine construction was also all-electric. The Gymnote , designed by Gustave Zédé, entered service in 1888 and was followed by Gaston Romazzotti’s Gustave Zédé five years later. Both boats were largely experimental, relied wholly on batteries without onboard recharge equipment to power their electric motors (severely restricting their range), and required many modifications, especially to their diving plane arrangements, to become effective.

In 1898 the French Navy announced an open international submarine design competition. Maxime Laubeuf’s design, the Narval , was the winner, and, although many of the boat’s features were short-lived, it established the essential characteristics of the vast majority of the world’s naval submarines until the end of World War II. Laubeuf designed the Narval as a double-hulled craft; the inner hull was strongly constructed to resist water pressure, while the outer hull was lightly built and optimized for surface performance. The space between the hulls accommodated ballast and trim tanks. The Narval, like almost all submarines for the next 50 years, was essentially a surface torpedo boat that could submerge to attack and make its escape. Like many French submarines of the next 25 years, it was steam powered: the French Navy was uncomfortable with using gasoline engines in submarines because of the explosion hazard. In 1904 the Aigrette became the first submarine to be fitted with a diesel engine, and with few exceptions all later French submarines used either diesel or steam plants. Steam engines remained attractive because France did not have access to sufficiently powerful diesel engines for its large boats.